A feature article on saxophone player Kenny Garrett in the September Downbeat surprised me with its headline, "Get Up & Dance."
I'd associated Garrett with cerebral jazz as uninviting to dancing as a classical symphony. As the article said, Garrett between 1996 and 2008 issued album-length tributes to John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, with whom he played for five years.
Moving away from the be-bop and post be-bop intellectualism especially associated with Coltrane and Davis, Garrett has released a new album, "Do Your Dance," with numbers that invite listeners to rise and move their bodies.
Audiences at Garrett's concerts now spontaneously dance in the aisles to numbers such as "Wayne's Thing," a tribute to Wayne Shorter, and "Happy People," which honors Herbie Hancock, the article said.
A feature in the same issue on Cuban conga player and singer Pedrito Martinez and his quartet's new album "Habana Dreams" highlighted that dancing is the main element of his concerts. That might be expected from the Latin rhythms of a a musician like Martinez, but I was still struck by the emphasis on dancing and how Latin-based rhythmic music has gained a greater influence over mainstream jazz.
New Orleans jazz began as dance music, with Buddy Bolden and other musicians packing sweltering halls with frenzied dancers. The music later split into a more popular, danceable swing with big bands led by Benny Goodman, Count Basie and other popular leaders and the more cerebral music of Charlie Parker and others in which the main pleasure was listening, although cool hipsters liked to sway in their seats and snap their fingers.
Musicians like Duke Ellington bridged the gap. While black bands like Basie's developed swing at a high level, the sound became more watered down for white audiences with leaders like Glenn Miller.
Now, based on the two Downbeat articles, jazz musicians appear headed more and more toward the music's dancing roots.
On a related note, a Wall Street Journal article this week on the Americana awards in Nashville noted that the genre now encompasses soul and rhythm & blues as well as traditional country. The music of Al Green, Otis Redding and the Staples Singers is seen as having roots in a simpler, less urbanized music as much as that of country-influenced artists like Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton.
Boundaries grow ever more fluid, with younger players fusing jazz, rock, soul and hip-hop and turning back to old-time string bands, ragtime, urban and country blues, stride piano and the danceable, risqué jazz of 1930s honky tonks and roadhouses.
I was amused by a Downbeat ad for an October jazz festival in Clearwater, Fla. that will feature acts like Daryl Hall, Kool & the Gang and the Commodores along with Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, the Mavericks and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.